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American Rifleman Go Scoped
Sam’s Thoughts On The Advantages Of Glass
By Sam Fadala
This young bull elephant threatens a charge. Precise bullet placement is vital. Even on a target
this size, a good scope is like having paid-up life insurance.
No one wanted to follow a wounded Cape buffalo in this 12-foot high grass
and all were relieved when the bull dropped to one 220-grain Barnes Solid directed
with the precision granted by a high-definition scope sight set at 10X.
A comparative handful of buffalo runners, a name they preferred, could never wipe out 60 million breeding bison roaming the vast lands of the Far West. Nor did they. Enter the Texan longhorn — exit the bison. But heaven knows they tried! There were no established roads and few trails. Motor vehicles were not yet. The hunters had to cover ground (145,552 square miles in Montana alone) on foot, horseback, and mule-drawn wagon. Their rifles were usually single-shot black powder breechloaders often fired from long range to plunk multiple bullets home before the stampede, and because you can’t roller skate in a buffalo herd.
The Encyclopedia of Buffalo Hunters and Skinners (Pioneer Press) records the fate of one close encounter of the deadly kind. George W. Dillon reported: “The dead man was fortunately and singularly found by another hunter, who had heard a noise nearby and upon going over a hill discovered a wounded buffalo goring the dying man. Upon approaching the prostrate man, he found him to be dying, his intestines having been gored out and his head laid open.”
This pre-64 Model 70 .30-06 with its first scope, a surprisingly bright one
considering vintage and low-end price range. Since, it has been fitted with a modern variable.
Sheep hunters should think variable scope — sometimes that rams shows
up at close range as well as lingering on the cliffs in the distance.
For shooting from afar, some buffalo runners employed glass sights. Two of the successful Clarkson brother, Charles and Matthew, used $156 rifles with scopes, while Brother George preferred iron sights. He did not like telescopes because, “Charles and Matthew always had black eyes from the telescope hitting them when the big guns recoiled.” Buffalo runners were the first Americans to extensively use riflescopes on big game, while the American Civil War saw scopes in the hands of Blue and Gray snipers firing Whitworths and Sharps at one another.
Confederate Major-General John Sedgewick smiled encouragement to his men as Northern sniper bullets whizzed around them. “Soldiers,” he said, “don’t dodge bullets. Why, they can’t hit an elephant at this distance.” A split second later, Sedgwick fell dead, a Yankee bullet through his head. I’ll bet the rifle that fired that shot wore a telescopic sight.
Buffalo runners and soldiers knew the deadliness of scoped rifles. However, grassroots American and Canadian hunters didn’t take to glass sights until after World War I, and then sparingly. At the beginning of that conflict the U.S. Army had zero sniper scopes. The only useful sniper scopes were found on German rifles, products of Zeiss and Hensoldt. These two optical companies would sell their wares to North American sportsmen after the conflict. Paul Curtis of Field & Stream magazine was one of the first champions of big game riflescopes. Well-known writer E. C. Crossman was also an early advocate. Colonel Townsend Whelen, “Mr. Rifleman,” declared in Outdoor Life and The American Rifleman that scopes made sense on big game rifles. Hunters were beginning to listen.
The variable power scope is ideal in all types of hunting terrain from whitetail
thicket to antelope plains, low power for close, higher magnification for far.
Overview of Mr. Clean Sweep, Sam’s special .30-‘06 custom rifle with long range accuracy and
power potential realized by the addition of the new Swarovski Z6i 2X – 12X telescopic rifle sight.
While the scope is large with its 30mm tube, it matches the full-size dimensions of the rifle perfectly.
Stoeger’s 1932 catalog showcased “Rifle Telescopes for Hunting” from Zeiss and Hensoldt, including the variable Zeiss 1X-4X as well as Hensholdt’s Luxor-Hell with “unsurpassed brilliance.” The Luxor-Hell was longer than a Coney Island hot dog and weighed a full pound with a narrow 100-yard 11-foot field of view. It cost $45.00 when a Winchester Model 94 sold for $36.30.
The only other scopes in the 1932 catalog were Lyman’s 5A 5X and 3X 438 Field Model, both with Bausch & Lomb lenses. When the 1939 New York World’s Fair made history, the Stoeger catalog included the German Ajack series from 2.4X Klein at $36.00 to Ajack 10×50 at $120.00. Customary with German scopes, an array of “graticules” was offered, post and crosswire being standard. The same catalog showcased Noske, Zeiss, Fecker, Unertl, Lyman and Mossberg riflescopes as well as well as America’s pet-to-be — the successful Weaver.
The general public of big game hunters in the ‘30s and ‘40s had decent scopes to choose from, but they said nix to the glass sight. It wasn’t trusted. Dr. C.E. Hagie, rated as Montana’s premier moving target marksman and listed twice in Records of American Big game, dumped garbage on the scope. He wrote in The American Rifle book, “Toters of telescope-sight-mounted rifles would kill 25 per cent more game if they left the telescopes at home.” He accused scopes as delicate and unsuited to rough country. Scoped rifles were unhappy in saddle scabbards, unwieldy, slow to aim, victims of snow, rain, leaves and pine needles. Hagie concluded that scopes would continue in use by “a lot of big game hunters who like to put on their favorite rifles all the fancy gadgets that can be procured.”
Hodgdon’s Triple Seven powder in FFg and FFFg granulations has high energy yield, low standard
deviation, and cleans up readily after shooting with nothing more than water.
More people are injured or worse by hippos than any other animal in Africa — and as big as
they are, the target is small — especially when the bull is in the water and only a brain shot will
work. Sam took this one for a Zimbabwe village for meat.
Not mentioned in the text, but vital to scope integrity, is the mount. This is the new
QR Mount from Leupold — guaranteed stable in machined steel.
America’s premier gun writers, Elmer Keith and Jack O’Connor, replaced devil’s horns for halos. Elmer scoped rifles for elk hunting the thick Salmon River country. Jack boldly excluded iron sights entirely from his scoped custom rifles. Iron sights remain viable to this day and grace several of my own big game rifles. But as the cliché goes, You can’t hit what you can’t see and we see better with scopes.
By the late 1940s, and especially 1950s, the scope sight was poised for a takeover. Pete Kuhlhoff, guns editor for Argosy, one of America’s best-selling magazines in the ‘50s, noted in Kuhlhoff on Guns, “Regardless of the kind of shooting — be it plinking, small-game hunting, varmint hunting, big game hunting or target shooting — the scope sight is of tremendous help in accurate aiming.” He advised 2.5X to 4X for big game.
Earlier telescopic rifle sights on big game rifles were acceptable. But today’s scopes put them in the shade. My PH rifle in Africa, a Marlin .45-70, wears a Leupold VX-III 1.75-6X. Likewise a Marlin 336 in .35 Remington. The .45-70 500-grain is trustworthy on the biggest game in the world, while 200 to 220-grain bullets in the .35 are deadly in heavy cover, even for elk.
Shoelace close, 1.75x provides a super-wide field of view. Rotate to 6X for more precise bullet placement at longer range. The bright VX-III gathers a clear aiming point and it won’t go gunny-sack should it take a little tap against a tree trunk. Matching scope to rifle, a vintage Sako rechambered to .300 Weatherby Magnum wears a Leupold VX-7 2.5X-10Xx45mm to match the rifle’s long range authority. Previously, this rifle had a 3X-9X Leupold that survived a truck rollover. The pickup did a summersault, landing upside down. When the tow vehicle up-righted it, there lay the rifle case smashed like an egg carton under an elephant’s behind. But rifle and scope were okay.
Close view of the lever system of the QR Mount. A return to one-half-inch
zero is promised when scope is removed and replaced.
Showing the low end setting of the 1.75X-6X Leupold VX-III scope on Sam’s
.35 Remington Marlin 336 hunting rifle.
When tags remain unfilled toward the end of a big game season, I put away all my “toys” and get serious. Serious means Mr. Clean Sweep, a Morrison Precision custom .30-‘06 that makes witnessed half-inch clusters at 100 yards with 21st century “magnumized” ammo — Federal’s powerful High Energy 180-grain bullet at former .300 H&H factory punch, as well as a special handload from Barnes Reloading Manual 3, page 358, a 180-grain bullet at 3,000 feet per second chronographed from the 26-inch barrel.
The great accuracy and strong arrival energy at long range prompted a scope to match this rifle’s potential: Swarovksi 2X-12X Z6i, a remarkable achievement in 21st century optical development with incredible target resolution. Magnification runs 2X black timber/brush to 12X long range bullet placement, remarkable in one scope. The investment price pays off in years of big game success.
A pen pal and I carry on a friendly disagreement. He claims the American big game hunter is “over-scoped.” He chooses a 2.5X fixed power scope over a variable for all big game hunting. I say no way. Today’s infallible variable is the king of scopes, ready for close-up at low power with no argument superiority for placing bullets spot-on far off.
The Z6i on Mr. Clean Sweep, for example, serves in black timber for elk at lower magnification, antelope on the plains on higher power. Another friend goes 6X for all big game. I suggest he buy a variable, set it on 6X, and then try to convince himself that 6X is best on a whitetail breaking cover at 32 paces and a mule deer buck across a Rocky Mountain canyon at 278 yards.
At this point we could go into all sorts of technical jargon from the world of optical science. I get a chuckle when I read some of that stuff in gun magazines. I dare the writer to truly explain those big scientific words used by lads and lassies who hold PhDs in physics. Those of us who prefer results over big words consider optical resolution, eye relief, focus, accurate point of impact movement, and ruggedness.
A riflescope is obviously an optical instrument and as such I want it to resolve images, a trait that separates the great big game scopes in the field from the also-rans. I want to clearly “make out” the target in every type of hunting niche. You mean you can’t tell that’s a bull moose in your scope? I can. But how about the branch running parallel to its chest? Can I make that out in shadowy timber? Can I see that one clear hole through the foliage that leads to a perfect shot? That happens only with scopes of high optical resolution.
One of the most important traits of a big game riflescope is reliable and precise point of
impact adjustment. Sam tested his new Leupold VX-III and found that it had precise bullet
impact movement with quarter-inch clicks—one click equaling one-quarter inch change in
impact at the target “average” with regard to different ballistics.
The VX-7 has a unique reticule adjustment feature—the turret caps rises, but does not come off.
Adjustment is made with a twist and the cap is replaced. And that’s it.
Remember George the buffalo slayer? He didn’t like scopes on his brothers’ rifles because they caused black eyes. Today, four-inch eye relief is common. No more half-moon above the eyebrow from the ocular crashing into the forehead. It can still happen when we don’t pay attention. But longer eye relief squelches the problem.
Focus comes three ways. On most scopes the ocular ring is adjusted to suit individual eyesight. Surprisingly, I find some hunters never focus their new scopes. A scope, as on my Z6i, may have continuous and instantly changeable ocular focus for precise and fast adjustment in the field. And some scopes have an adjustable objective lens. Precise point-of-impact movement is also vital. If the scope has quarter-minute clicks, bullet impact should move approximately one-fourth inch at 100 yards per click. Finally, a scope requires ruggedness on two counts—recoil and contact with unfriendly forces. I want the innards of my big game scope unscrambled from recoil or a tap on the side of a boulder.
The modern big game riflescope is great. And that’s about all we need to know.
Fully coated lenses are the rule for today’s better riflescopes. Leupold takes it one step further with a special feature that actually increases “twilight visibility.” It’s called XT—Extended Twilight Lens System ™.
The VX-7 is ranked as one of the world’s top scope sighs, this one in 2.5X-10X to be mounted on an
Africa-bound .300 Weatherby Magnum destined for a cull hunt in Namibia. The 0 and + and –
symbols are with regard to personal adjustment of the ocular to provide a razor sharp image.